Samuel Paul Bowie (born March 17, 1961) is an American former professional basketball player. A national sensation in high school and outstanding collegian, Bowie’s professional promise was undermined by repeated injuries to his legs and feet. In spite of the setbacks, the 7 ft 1 in and 235 lb center played ten seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The Houston Rockets selected Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 NBA draft, having won a coin toss with the Portland Trail Blazers for the pick. The Indiana Pacers actually finished with one of the two worst records in the league that year along with the Rockets, but had traded the pick in 1981 to the Blazers for center Tom Owens. Olajuwon had been the Blazers’ first choice, but with him now off the board and the team still desiring a center, Portland made Bowie the second choice in the draft. Drafting third, the Chicago Bulls chose North Carolina shooting guard Michael Jordan. Jordan is now widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time.
At the time, picking Bowie appeared to make sense from the Blazers’ perspective; they’d been looking for help in the post since franchise player Bill Walton suffered the first of several foot injuries that would eventually end his career. In fact, shortly before the draft, the NBA fined the Blazers $250,000 (equivalent of $570,000 in 2015) for improper contact with Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Additionally, Portland had drafted a shooting guard, Olajuwon’s college teammate Clyde Drexler, a year earlier. The Blazers felt that with both Drexler and Jim Paxson on the roster at the time, they had no room for another shooting guard. Nonetheless, in 2005, ESPN, citing Bowie’s injury-laden college career, named the Blazers’ choice of Bowie as the worst draft pick in North American professional sports history. In 2005, Sports Illustrated listed Bowie as the biggest draft bust in NBA history, arguing that teams should draft for talent and not need.
During his rookie season, Bowie played in 76 games and averaged 10 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team. However, in his second season, things started to go south as Bowie’s injuries began catching up with him again. During a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at The MECCA, Bowie and teammate Jerome Kersey got tangled up going for a rebound and as they landed, Bowie’s injury-prone left tibia broke again and he was carried off the floor on a stretcher.
On June 24, 1989, Bowie, who had averaged 10.5 points per game with the Trail Blazers, was traded, along with a draft pick, to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Buck Williams. Bowie’s four seasons in New Jersey were his healthiest and most successful; he averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and never missed more than 20 games in a season. His best season was his first with the Nets where he averaged a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Bowie also hit a career high in points per game in 1991–92 with 15.0, and played a career high 79 games in 1992-93 averaging 9.1 points per game and seven rebounds.
After the 1992–93 season, Bowie was involved in a trade that resulted in Benoit Benjamin being sent to New Jersey in exchange for Bowie, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Bowie’s injury problems resurfaced and his action in two seasons with Los Angeles was limited; he only played in 92 games and started 17. Bowie retired from professional basketball in 1995 to become involved in harness racing, although Jerry West, the team’s general manager, wanted him to stick around for a few years after that.
Career highlights and awards
NBA All-Rookie First Team (1985)
Consensus second-team All-American (1981)
Second-team All-American – AP (1984)
No. 31 retired by the University of Kentucky
Career NBA statistics
Points 5,564 (10.9 ppg)
Rebounds 3,845 (7.5 rpg)
Blocks 909 (1.8 bpg)